Everybody and their Mother is writing about the near-perfect game this and near-perfect game that. The 49ers played a perfect game, they write, except that Joshua Morgan broke his ankle.
Yeah, this ill-defined "they" are totally right: the game was just about flawless and the only real downside to take from it are probably Joshua Morgan's injury and the fact that Alex Smith had a couple communication issues that resulted in near interceptions. Besides these, it's a near-perfect game.
I agree with this totally in sentiment, but I must say that I find the phrasing a bit odd. First off, there is no such thing as perfection in sports, but that is a whole entire issue that I don't even want to get into (it's the sports equivilent of meeting people by asking their political or religious views). Besides that, I would argue that the phrasing implies that somehow and someway the injury could have been avoided - or, in fact, that it should have been avoided. Now, I don't know how many people are trying to find negative things to say about Jim Harbaugh right now; I mean, come on, he could run for political office and San Francisco would vote for him unanimously at this point. But, if they did. If they were looking for something, this is the logical play to zero in on, yeah? Or so it would seem.
Follow me after the jump so that we can discuss the relative merits of the play calling on fourth down.
Let's paint the picture first: the 49ers are up about 174 - 2.5 (if I recall correctly) and it is fourth down with three yards to go. A lot of the first string players are sitting on the bench at this point and, to my great excitement, Colin Kaepernick is getting his first real NFL regular season experience.
So, on a fourth and three, in field goal range, mind you, Jim Harbaugh elects to go for it with a throwing play.
A gusty call, maybe, but totally the right one.
Look, games like this are rare. If the 49ers were really miners, they just hit gold. I think Harbaugh cried out "Eureka" at least four times during the second half. Games like this offer the rare opportunity to get some of the second string guys in so that they can see some real football action. I was pumped for Colin. I'm pumped that he threw the ball well. I'm pumped that he went 3 for 3 in a situation that matters - or at least, that matters more than the preseason.
It's a blowout, ergo use the youngin'. Thus, if one has a situation in which one can test out the rookie QB, it must be done to the fullest. Throw the ball on fourth down. Heck, I'd throw it on fifth down if they would give me one. I love the pitches to Kendal Hunter, but I wanted to see Kaepernick fling the ball around even more. I understand that that is an untenable way to finish out a game, but man did he not look good guys?
The only other line of opposition I can think of to this logic is why not use the second string receivers too. Why does Morgan have to be out there taking the hits?
I think this is a better argument than run on fourth or just take the field goal. But, still, I think a coach in this situation has to put his young QB in a position to succeed. Morgan lends talent to the situation. He can also respond to an excellent back shoulder pass and haul it in for twenty more yards. Kyle Williams, as much as I love his potential, has yet to show that.
So when Harbaugh says that they can't "take a knee" with four minutes left, I think he is completely right. But, behind his cleverly constructed responses to the media, I think Harbaugh knows that the development of young players is worth the risk of injury. I don't want to make him sound like a jerk who doesn't care about his players, because it is so so so obvious that he does. But, he is a coach and as a coach, he made the right decision on Sunday.